Windows 8 Compared to Windows 7
Touch is the single biggest difference between Windows 8 and its predecessors. Unlike previous Windows generations, Win 8 has actually been completely designed with touch in mind - hence the aforementioned tile interface, formerly called Metro.
So what if you don’t have touch? Well, nearly all of the touch-oriented controls, functions and shortcuts can be manipulated with a mouse or touchpad, and in Desktop mode navigation becomes almost familiar.
The other big differences between Windows 8 and its predecessor are the new Windows Store, Windows 8’s equivalent to Android’s Google Play or iOS’ App Store, the way these programs are managed, and lots of under-the-hood tweaks.
Yes, you will need to re-learn more than with previous Windows transitions since Windows 95, but on the other hand there is much that is familiar too, and, like Android, Windows allows apps that can alter its interface and the ways you interact with it - unlike iOS, where you need to jailbreak a device if you want to customise anything.
Windows 8 Installation
Installing Windows 8 on a fresh machine is a very familiar process for anyone who has tried installing Windows 7. Merely input your Region for Language, Time and Keyboard settings, your license key, and whether you want to do an automatic or manual install, and the rest practically handles itself.
Once the OS is installed but before the final setup, you can choose a colour for your Windows 8 interface, hook up a network, and choose to log in with a Windows Live ID from the likes of Hotmail. If you forgo the Live ID, you’ll miss out on Windows 8 syncing settings and interface options across your various Windows 8 devices. You also need to sign in with one if you want to gain access to the Windows Store, but this is no different to Android or iOS.
Overall, installation should take under half an hour, and under 20 minutes on a fast machine. If you want to try Windows 8 without touching your Windows 7 install, just put it on its own partition and you’ll be offered the choice of which OS to boot into, along with a customisable default, at bootup.
Windows 8 Look and Feel
At this stage, you have probably seen screenshots of Windows 8. If you’ve experienced Windows 7 Phone, you’ll pretty much know what to expect from the new tile interface.
Programs and widgets are represented by various rectangular or square blocks with bright, primary colours. Everything is sharp, flat edges and angles with solid fills - don’t expect any curves or fades here. It’s definitely distinct from other touch-based operating systems, cleaner than some Android installs but not as regimented as iOS.
The only playfulness in Windows 8’s touch interface comes either from backgrounds, of which there is a wide selection with more undoubtedly on the way, or from the images displayed in the tiles themselves.
In a way, these tiles can be seen as ‘windows’ into your app, widget or setting. Unfortunately, for now at least, the size of each tile seems to be predetermined by either Microsoft or the developer.
The disadvantage is that you can’t use existing wallpapers or pictures (yet) for your background. However, you can do so for the lock screen. Again similar to Android or other mobile OSes, the Windows 8 X86 lock screen doesn’t just show you your profile and lets you enter your password, but it also gives you handy info like the date and time, wireless signal strength, new appointments or emails and - if you’re running it on a mobile device - remaining battery life.
Naturally, many essential apps included with Windows 8 have also received a complete make-over, and in many cases for the better. Take the new Photos (equivalent to the previous Picture and Fax viewer default for viewing pics of any kind). It makes full use of the screen without any icons, menus or bars getting in the way - something that required you to go into SlideShow mode in Windows 7.
As you’d expect Photos is completely finger-friendly, letting you pinch to zoom or swipe between pics smoothly. Exit your pictures library, and it lets you pull up images from SkyDrive, Flickr, Facebook etc. Essentially, it’s intuitive, pretty and comprehensive, more so than the native app of any rival OS we can think of including previous Windows versions.